Blair Williams, who had been using a wheelchair for 16 years following an accident, attended a rally at Queen’s Park on Thursday calling for an increase to income supports for people with disabilities.
“I am constantly made to feel like a second-class citizen,” said Michael Iacovone, a 32-year-old university student with spina bifida who has relied on the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) since he was 18.
Iacovone said ODSP — which currently pays up to $1,169 per month, although Iacovone said he receives $980 — actually ensures those who receive it stay well below the poverty line.
“We are left to buy food that is not nutritionally appropriate because there is not enough money to buy fresh produce,” he said. “By the end of the month I’m scraping for loonies and toonies.”
A single person in Ontario with a disability and no children is able to collect a total annual income of $15,731, after accounting for all forms of social assistance and tax credits, according to the latest report by the Maytree Foundation, which studies welfare rates across Canada.
That amount is nearly $9,000 below Canada’s official poverty line, the Market Basket Measure, and nearly $3,000 below a threshold known as “Deep Impact Poverty,” which is defined as households whose disposable income is less than 75 per cent of the Market Basket Measure.
“It’s not poverty, it’s destitution,” said NDP MPP Chris Glover, one of two opposition politicians who spoke at Thursday’s rally.
All three opposition parties have promised to increase social assistance, if elected.
The NDP platform promises an immediate 20-per-cent increase to both Ontario Works and ODSP, while tying future raises to inflation.
Ontario’s Green Party announced Thursday they would double ODSP, with leader Mike Schreiner describing the current rates as “legislated poverty.”
The Liberal party has yet to make a formal announcement, but Scarborough MPP Mitzie Hunter, who also attended Thursday’s rally, said her party would increase ODSP and look at implementing a “living wage.”
Hunter referenced how the previous Liberal government, under Kathleen Wynne, had planned to increase social assistance rates by three per cent in 2018 before losing the election to Ford, who cut the rate increase in half and hasn’t touched them since.
“This government has been very callous to the people on OW and ODSP,” Hunter said.
Ford, speaking at a news conference earlier this month, did not directly answer a question about whether his government will increase ODSP.
“The people that are unable to work, for any reason, be it physically, mentally, I will always be there to support them,” he said. “(But) the best way to help someone that is able to work is to get them a job, and a good paying job, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
The Progressive Conservative budget, released Thursday, did not include an increase to either OW or ODSP.
Social assistance rates in Ontario have never recovered from the 21.6 per cent cut made by former Progressive Conservative premier Mike Harris in 1995. The rates lagged well behind inflation under successive governments, including 15 years under the Liberals.
Several speakers at Thursday’s rally described how the current record inflation has further eroded monthly cheques, pointing to rising food bank usage and stories of some people simply skipping meals.
“The cost of bread has almost doubled,” said Blair Williams, a 46-year-old with quadriplegia who was attending the rally with his service dog. “People that live on ODSP are living in extreme poverty.”
Dr. Talveer Mandur, a psychiatry resident at the University of Toronto, said raising ODSP rates was “a matter of life and death,” citing cases of ODSP recipients considering medically assisted death.
“There’s nothing I can prescribe to help my patients get housing for $500,” he added, referring to the portion of ODSP intended to go toward shelter. “Without making any changes to the ODSP system, the health of our most vulnerable citizens will continue to deteriorate.”
Credit belongs to : www.thestar.com